I was really excited in the run-up to the Hardmoors 60. I’d done several of the Hardmoors marathon series over the last couple of years, but had never completed one of the ultras. I did start the Hardmoors 55 in March, but DNF’d due to the horrendous weather conditions – you can read about that here. But the weather forecast for the 60 looked great (if a little too warm!) so it looked like it would be a grand day out. The Cleveland Way national trail in Yorkshire runs from Helmsley to Filey. In a nutshell, the Hardmoors 55 follows this along the North York Moors from Helmsley to Guisborough, then the 60 takes in the second ‘half’ from Guisborough to Filey, mostly along the coast and featuring around 3,500 metres of elevation. There’s also a Hardmoors 110 for anybody brave enough to do it all in one. These are all miles by the way, not kilometres!
My only aim for the 60 was to finish, and having done lots of hilly training and events this year I was reasonably confident of doing that. So imagine my disappointment when, three days before the event, I was struck down with a horrible sickness bug! I spent the whole of Wednesday in bed, throwing up and unable to eat – only the second sick day I’ve had off work in about five years. Great timing! My goal was then readjusted to making the start and just getting as far as I could!
I travelled up to Guisborough after work on the Friday, as we were able to register at Race HQ (Guisborough Sea Cadets) and have our electronic trackers fitted the night before the race. This is great, as it gives you an extra half hour in bed! Steve and I stayed at a B&B just a couple of miles away. It was good to meet up with my friend Mandy at the race briefing in the morning; she is an awesome runner who had already done the Highland Fling and Lakeland 50 this year.
As we set off at 8 am the weather was already sunny, but still nice and cool. The first mile was a little frustrating as we all had to queue to get over two stiles, resulting in a 17 minute first mile for me; but hey, it’s a long day out so not that important in the grand scheme of things. The second mile includes probably the toughest section of the day, up the Tees Link footpath to Highcliff Nab; this is a steep climb up to the Cleveland Way, gaining lots of height in a short space of time. Early in the day, but at least our legs were fresh! My poles were really useful there. By the time we’d hauled ourselves up there we were all certainly well warmed up.
After this baptism of fire we headed out to the coast at Saltburn along some lovely undulating woodland trail, heading ultimately down to the coast and the first checkpoint (9 miles). I had a drink of Coke and a handful of peanuts and cracked on. Almost immediately there’s another steep climb out of Saltburn up Cat Nab, after which we were up onto the coastal section of the Cleveland Way, where we stayed for almost all of the rest of the race. The scenery along here unfolds into one spectacular view after another, mostly featuring huge cliffs dropping down to beautiful beaches. Possibly not a great race to do if you have a problem with heights, but the path is always a safe distance from the edge.
I settled into a good rhythm and was really enjoying myself as the miles ticked by. The sun grew warmer, and I was very grateful that quite a strong breeze was taking the edge off the heat.
The route passed through some lovely fishing villages such as Staithes and Runswick Bay, where there was another checkpoint (21 miles) with the first of our two drop bags. The marshals at Hardmoors events (or Hardshals, as they are known) are always brilliant. As I approached, someone called out my number and someone else immediately presented me with my drop bag – fantastic! I’d packed a bottle of chocolate milk to drink here, as I think it’s a good way to take on calories without feeling too full. I don’t like to stay or sit at checkpoints for too long, otherwise I find it hard to get going again. So I took some crisps to eat on the hoof and headed off across the beach towards another steep climb.
We spent pretty much the whole day gaining height and then dropping down again. A lot of this up and down is done on steps, which I think makes climbing a bit easier, but descending a bit harder. The steps are mostly either rough and uneven or narrow and wooden, so not really possible to run down for most people. They’re also quite energy sapping and hard on the quads! I tried to remember to keep eating and drinking plenty and trundled on.
Just before the halfway point we passed through Sandsend and arrived at Whitby. By now it was afternoon, the sun was still shining, and the streets were crowded with people enjoying a day out at the seaside. We wove our way through them down into the town, then out the other side and up the famous abbey steps. I chatted with another runner who’d just bought some chips and kindly offered me a few – they tasted great! I saw another couple of runners queuing for ice creams by the abbey – great idea!
The third checkpoint was just past here at Saltwick Bay (31 miles). It was then only a few miles of gorgeous clifftop running from there to the next checkpoint at Robin Hood’s Bay (37 miles). Lots of walkers were out on the Cleveland Way, and most of them were lovely folk who were happy to let us runners pass and give us some encouragement – although they probably thought we were crazy! At Robin Hood’s Bay there was some fabulous lemon cake on offer, which was just what I needed to power me up for the next section. We climbed up more steps out of the village, followed by a bit of level running before a big uphill hike to Ravenscar. Luckily this is on a good quality path, so wasn’t too tough, but it did occur to me at that point that we were still only two thirds of the way to Filey! We deviated slightly from the Cleveland Way here to go to the checkpoint at the village hall (41 miles) which had our second drop bag. Hot food and drinks were also available here. I took advantage of this stop to go to the loo and change my socks, before grabbing some pizza to eat as I set off walking down the road.
With fresh feet and some food inside me I felt great, and seemed to be going quite well on the next stretch between Ravenscar and Scarborough. There was a lot of slight downhill incline along here, which obviously helped! Daylight began to fade after about an hour, so I stopped and put on my head torch. Over the next half hour or so there was a spectacular sunset, the sky aflame with pink and orange; then shortly afterwards the moon rose over the sea. It all looked quite amazing, and phone photos don’t really do it justice!
Runners had become quite strung out by this point, and I didn’t see anyone else – runner or otherwise – for quite some time. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about running in the dark so high up; but the path was clear and well-marked, I have a good head torch and the moon was bright, so it was actually OK and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It was very quiet and I could hear the sea lapping gently far below, which was quite soothing. Eventually I caught up with a man and woman who were running together and stayed a little way behind them until we reached Scarborough. My Garmin died before that, so from then on I had no real idea of what time it was. The route goes along the seafront road at Scarborough, with about three miles of flat pavement. Sounds good in theory, but actually a bit sapping for the legs! I managed to run almost all of it. It was now mid evening and all the bars and restaurants were in full Saturday night mode. Right at the end of the seafront, the route went across a bit of beach, then up a hill to the final checkpoint at Holbeck (53 miles). I had to sit down to remove some sand from my shoes, then grabbed a quick snack before the final stretch to the finish at Filey.
Setting off from here, I realised that my quads and hips were starting to hurt quite a bit, and it was gradually becoming more difficult to run. Shortly afterwards we reached Cayton Bay, where a huge set of concrete steps go down into a wood, then shortly afterwards straight back up again. We’d been warned at the race briefing that anyone who missed this bit out would get an extra hour added to their time, so I sucked it up – and I think this section just about finished me off! I hauled myself up the steps with my poles and took a gel at the top, which I hoped would power me on. I knew there were only about six miles to go (hey, just a 10K!), but it became more and more difficult to keep moving forward at anything other than a walk. At one point I saw a light shining on the path ahead of me and thought it was a marshal, but lo and behold it was Steve with a torch! He’d popped up to give me a bit of encouragement and it was lovely to see him.
From that point I had to pretty much walk all the way to the finish. I wasn’t lacking in energy, but my legs were giving up the ghost. Now and then I broke into a bit of an ‘ultra shuffle’ but it never lasted for long, as my hips and quads were really giving me some grief. It was just a matter of toughing it out until the end! I thought maybe I should have used my poles more than I did, as I hadn’t bothered to get them out for all of the climbs. A lesson learned maybe? After what seemed like forever the path began to go down into Filey, where the final ‘treat’ awaited – another massive set of steps to go down, which my quads did not appreciate at all!. If I hadn’t had poles I think I would have had to hold someone’s hand! The official end of the Cleveland Way is at Filey Brigg, but the race finish is at the Methodist Hall, a short distance away up a hill. Steve met me at the seafront and encouraged me to run the last bit to the finish, but I could only manage a few yards as we approached the hall. I looked up at the clock on the building and was amazed to see it was half past midnight. Although I’d had a fantastic day I was very glad it was over!
People applauded as I entered the hall, which was great. My tracker was removed and someone handed me a medal and t-shirt. Food was available, but I really didn’t feel like eating at that point. I took a couple of snacks to have in the car on the way home, where I’d also stashed some more chocolate milk. I finally got to bed a 3 am!
Scores on the doors? My finish time was 16:31:53. So this 62 mile race took me over half an hour longer to complete than The Wall in June, which was eight miles further but had only about a third of the elevation. 250 runners started the race; 202 finished within the cut-off time of 18 hours, with a further eight finishing after the cut-off. So 40 runners dropped out along the way. I came 136th overall, 30th woman out of 60 (only about a quarter of the field were women) and 9th out of 15 FV50 runners. There were some very strong athletes in the FV50 category, a couple of whom finished in the top ten women overall. So nothing to set the world on fire from me, but considering that three days before I’d been too poorly to even get up I was happy with that. Would I do it again? Probably not, as there are lots of other races I’d like to do, but I am very glad I did it – not only because I now have a very cool Hardmoors crossed swords ultra t-shirt, but also because there is a certain satisfaction in having completed such a tough event, no matter how slow I was towards the end! I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a first ultra, as it is pretty tough – the fact that it carries four UTMB points is an indication of that. But if you love a challenge and a day out at the seaside, you should definitely do it! Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.